From the Museum
Too often people say, “I just don’t like history!” Maybe they feel that way because they have the wrong idea about history! History is much, much more than the class many of us took in school where we had innumerable dates and figures to memorize. History is life itself!
Someone much brighter than me once said; “Yesterday is history; tomorrow is the future; today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” How true. Think about it!
History is life – our life, our parents’ lives, grandparents’ lives, great-grandparents’ lives – and so on. Today will be history tomorrow! We are all a part of history because we are here today.
We need to know about yesterday (history) and our experiences then so we can decide today (present) when, where and how we are going tomorrow (future). That may sound somewhat philosophical, but it’s true.
To me history is also an adventure about life - whether it is the Indiana Jones films or Star Wars or something between the two. We enjoy these fictitious stories about life and also learn something from them about good/evil, right/wrong, or whatever the message, to enrich or better our future.
We should enjoy history for the same reasons. The exact moment in time that something happened is not as important as the fact that it did happen and, because it did happen, lives are forever changed. .
History also repeats itself. From it we can learn about what actions to take, or not to take, to improve or enhance our lives.
That said, I have an example of history repeating itself to share with readers this week. Before we begin the true story, you should recall a couple of stories shared last summer and fall about the late congress-man from Monticello, William Frank (W. F.) Norrell.
(The late Mr. Norrell served in the U. S. Congress from 1938 to his untimely death in office in 1961. His many accomplishments included the initiation of the Kerr-McClellan Arkansas River Navigation System. Our Drew County Museum is the caretaker of an award honoring him for this noble endeavor.)
Our story today goes back in time to an earlier April in 1942. WWII was raging at that time in our country’s history. Congressman Norrell was heavily involved in his bid for reelection to his third term in the U.S. Congress. Our story comes from the front page of the April 9, 1942, Advance Monticellonian.
In this article announcing his candidacy, Norrell relates that, on the national level, he has been an active supporter of providing adequate defenses on land, air and sea for our country, as well as urging proper fortification of all American island bases in the South Pacific.
Then he lists his accomplishments for Drew County, emphasizing construction of additional buildings at Monticello, Wilmar and other schools in the county; additions of a dairy barn, livestock building and woodwork shop at Arkansas A&M College (now UAM); a C.P.A. training program and “other things.”
Norrell further avows that he is “exerting every effort” in Washington for our county, including working to procure a defense project for the county but has not been successful to this point.
(So far, we can readily see history repeating itself as our representatives come to Monticello and list their accomplishments as well as pledge to keep working on our behalf. In fact, Congressman Mike Ross visited Drew County on Wednesday, April 15, for the same basic reasons.)
Now, this is the most interesting, and the most historically significant, part of Congressman Norrell’s presentation as he explains why he has been unable to secure a defense project for the county.
In 1942, Mr. Norrell says that he cannot get a project to locate in Drew County, or any other area, that does not have at least;
a. two mainline railroads,
b. two paved highways,
c. natural water supply,
d. sufficient power,
e. available housing, and a
f. skilled and semi-skilled work force.
Doesn’t this sound familiar? Aren’t these some of the same economic development terms we here today? Is this deja vu, or history repeating itself?
While many things have changed over the years, we still have some of these same basic needs that are inhibiting our growth today.
Congressman Norrell saw and related our biggest barrier to growth 67 years ago, and it is still true.
A respected leader told me a few days ago that the key to Monticello’s future is highways, highways, highways. Another wise man!
We have come a long way from Drew County in 1942, but should we be content? Shouldn’t we dig in and work to secure all of these vital components to economic development? Shouldn’t this be more important than superficial “things”?
Because of Norrell’s work and others along the way, UAM is our shining light! However, it should not be expected to carry the entire burden alone.
Highways will bring industry that will bring families that stay and grow and buy and help us build a bigger, brighter future. It seems useless to build a fancy barn and have no livestock to use it.
History has reaffirmed how we should prepare for a better future. We should never be satisfied with what we have and/or compare ourselves with our neighbors.
We should prepare for an even better future for Drew County and we should start today.
The late Congressman Norrell in 1942 foretold “what we need” for economic growth and development. We still lack some of his listed “requirements.” We would be wise to dig in and get them before another 60+ years passes.
Drew County and Monticello can be the hub of southeast Arkansas on an even greater scale, but we have to listen to the lessons from the past and work today to insure an even brighter and more prosperous future.